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This listening exercise gives participants an opportunity to reflect on various aspects of the experience of listening and being listened to as well as the experience of being the speaker in a situation.
This is an exercise that we use on our Mediation Training Course at CAOS Conflict Management in London UK.
It can easily be assumed that we all experience listening and being listened to in the same way, but this exercise can highlight a range of differences amongst participants.
This, in turn, helps us to understand what constitutes good listening and effective communication.
The description of the main constituents of good listening is often restricted to 'eye contact', posture, nodding etc. however this exercise begins to identify that what is going on inside us while listening has an enormous impact on its effectiveness.
This awareness moves our listening from a superficial level to one in which we become more aware of our own preconceptions and projections. These can create barriers to effective listening and only through becoming aware of them can we start to remove the barriers.
Through this awareness we become more open to what someone is actually communicating to us instead of the information that has been through our own 'filters' to fit with our own world view that can often occur in listening.
This listening skills activity is also used in the training of Mediators to highlight the need for continuous self-monitoring for assumptions they might make about disputants while hearing their account of their difficulty.
| "Hello Alan,
I am the VP of Information Technology & Systems for a company that is thriving. However, the pressure for IT to accomplish such dynamic business objectives is tremendous. Much of my time is spent managing competing priorities. Often, the re-prioritizing of projects generates conflict within the various departments and among their managers.
I did a 1 hour workshop where I presented your Facts and Feelings Listening Exercise. We learned so much about how we listen and the consequences of not listening well that I was asked to purchase your book and have another Listening Meeting.
My team just launched a project that could have whipped the team members and executives into a tremendous conflict. I required everyone to follow your rules for listening and it has been the best implementation we have had in 10years.
Thank you for your generous and comprehensive communications and conflict resolution information."
Ask participants to form groups of 3. If the numbers don't quite work, ask them to form one or two groups of 4 where necessary.
Before starting the listening exercise, ask all participants to think of any topic they believe they could talk about in their group for about 3 minutes. Ideally the topic will be something they feel passionately about or have a strong interest in and their feelings about it may be positive or negative. Some people may want to talk about their pet hate, others about a favourite hobby, their family, a work experience...... whatever they choose.
Request that all discussions remain confidential within the group of 3 or 4. It will not be necessary to share others' views and ideas on their topic in later discussion. The focus is on the experience of listening and speaking.
Participants are asked to take the following roles within their group:
A - Speaker B - Listener for facts C - Listener for feelings D - (where necessary) Observer
Once they have allocated their roles (they will get a chance to swap roles later), tell them the following:
A will be given 3 minutes to talk without interruption on their chosen topic.
B will listen for the 'facts' expressed by A in their talk.
C will listen for the 'feelings' expressed by A in their talk.
If there is a 4th member, D, their role will be simply to observe this round of the exercise.
It is important that nobody speaks except for A, even if A runs out of things to say before the 3 minutes are up. Sitting in silence can be an interesting experience in itself for discussion later.
Once A has had their 3 minutes to speak (the Facilitator of the whole group keeps time):
B is then given 2 minutes to summarise back the 'facts' expressed by A during their talk, and then...
C is given 2 minutes to summarise back the 'feelings' expressed by A during their talk.
In a group of 4, D simply observes but may gain insights for later discussion during this part of the exercise which they can note down.
Ideally, discussion of the experience is left until later.
The exercise is then repeated, with the members of the group of 3 or 4 swapping roles.
Finally the exercise is repeated a 3rd time so that at the end, each person in the group has carried out 3 of the roles. (In the groups of 4, each person will have missed out on one of the 4 roles)
Group review of the Listening Exercise:
This is where discussion of the exercise and the experience of listening, summarising, speaking etc. is explored.
What was it like to be the speaker?
What was it like to be the listener for facts?
What was it like to be the listener for feelings?
How did the speaker feel if they couldn't fill the whole 3 minutes?
How did the listeners feel if the speaker went silent for a while?
Did the listener for feelings claim to be able to interpret 'body language' or 'tone of voice' in order to be able to identify feelings?
Various other explorations of the experience of this listening exercise can occur....
Was it easier to listen for facts than for feelings, or vice versa?
How do you feel about your topic now, having been listened to for 3 minutes while you spoke about it, uninterrupted?
Did you make notes while listening and use them to summarise back or did you do it 'from memory'?
How did speakers feel if someone was taking notes while they were listening?
"Alan Sharland has written a vital book on bullying. His approach is the way forward. Instead of focusing on 'proving it', which takes us in the direction of investigations and hearings that go no where and only serve to exacerbate an already sensitive situation, he shows the way forward through direct communication and a focus on the behavior that is of concern." -
John Ford - HR Mediation Academy
Purchase the book on Amazon in Kindle or Paperback: How to Resolve Bullying in the Workplace
Some of the outcomes of the listening exercise can include:
Surprise at how difficult it is to talk without interruption for 3 minutes. (See Principle 2 - That we do not interrupt one another)
A realisation that we can only know how someone feels when they have actually told us - otherwise we can only make a guess from our own preconceptions about 'body language' and other 'signals'.
From this we see that we can often speak for other people and assume we know what they are thinking and feeling without asking them. By doing this we easily misinterpret people, while still believing we know what they think and feel.
This is useful to be aware of in any communication but it is very important to know as a Mediator as it reduces the likelihood that we will go on to take ownership away from people, of their views and thoughts and feelings about their dispute. We will be genuinely listening and not running away with our own ideas and solutions for the disputant's difficulties.
Sometimes the speakers find being listened to without interruption a very special experience as they normally find themselves competing to be heard. Others find the experience strange or unsettling as they would like some kind of 'response' from the listeners to gauge whether they are boring them or simply to feel that it is a 'conversation'.
The listening exercise is contrived in the sense that there would not normally be a strict 'no interruption' rule for listeners. However, some people would clearly appreciate this at times.
If a listener was taking notes, some speakers find this distracting because they are not getting eye contact, while others feel it makes their topic seem important.
There are no 'rights' or 'wrongs' about these viewpoints, they all provide interesting insights into the experience of listening and being listened to.
The communication and conflict resolution skills page of this website carries forward many of the learnings from the listening exercise.
Are you UK-based and looking for mediation, conflict coaching or training in communication and/or conflict resolution related issues?
If so, please contact Alan via his organisation website at CAOS Conflict Management
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Are you experiencing difficulties communicating with someone? Perhaps at work with your boss, or your colleagues, or at home with your partner, children or other family members? Is there an unresolved conflict that you are struggling with? The following book can help you with that.......
A Guide to Effective Communication for Conflict Resolution introduces the 9 Principles that are also described on this site to help the reader develop a 'mindfulness' in relation to their communication in a way that supports the resolution of conflict. In this book
Alan shares his observations and learnings from working as a Mediator and Conflict Coach with regard to the ways that people become stuck in unresolved conflict but also how they go on to create more effective ways forward in their difficult situations.
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Working with 'Bullying'? - This may interest you….
Hello Alan Sharland
Thank you SO MUCH for this article! It brings forward some very key points about the phenomenon of "bullying" which I have been pondering for some while. Among others, asking to what extent can/should the person on the receiving end of the bullying/perceived to be bullying take responsibility/initiate steps to shift the paradigm? How can this happen without implying that the recipient is somehow responsible for the bullying behavior?
Laurie McCann, Campus Ombuds, Univ Calif Santa Cruz
You have put together an awesome web site with lots of fantastic materials.
John Ford - Managing Editor Mediate.com
Hi Alan, ..... your site is great. I've been reading all the material and have to say its already made a difference in how I sort out/manage some of life's little problems. JH - West London, UK
This article is the BEST article on questioning I have ever read and I'd like, with your permission, to pass it along to our mediators.Your examples of both genuinely open and 'not-so-open' with explanations are very insightful.
ML - Canadian Govt. Agency
I have just spent hours on your site as I truly love the eclectic mix of reference material that you kindly share. From Gibran to Byron Katie and the fab youtube clips! I am making my free hugs poster as of now :-)
Anni with joyful smile :-)